Bath Spa University will be holding a postgraduate open day on Friday November 29th at Corsham Court from 2-4 pm. Grab the chance to meet some of the tutors and students on our fantastic MA in Literature, Landscape and Environment. Listen to us talk about our MA programme and take the opportunity to ask us questions. You’ll also get an opportunity to take a tour round our beautiful Corsham Court Campus.
Sign up for a place here.
For other future events see the BSU postgraduate events page.
I’m just leading our students through some fascinating texts that debate the human relationship with animals, so Steve Rose’s recent article in the Guardian, ‘Are animals in Hollywood films too human?’, is timely reminder of the complexities of that relationship. The article is an interesting critique of attempts by film-makers to reconcile the demands of narrative coherence and audience engagement with some modicum, at least, of fidelity to real animal behaviour. But the problem of anthropomorphism is by no means restricted to animals, and sometimes looking at other situations in which it arises can help us understand why it’s a challenge when it comes to films about chimps and grizzlies.
Perhaps most obviously, we anthropomorphise our deities. They are often represented as having a particular physical form – a long white beard, maybe, or flashing eyes like Athena – as well as all-too-human emotions such as jealousy, rage, love and mercy. The first philosophical critiques of anthropomorphism actually targeted our misrepresentation of the Christian God, not animals. But if it seems obviously a trivialisation of divine power to paint the creator of the universe with a beard, it’s less clear which emotions he might legitimately retain. Can God be spiteful? And, if not, why should we imagine he loves us? On the other hand, if God has no feelings at all, what kind of personal relationship can we have with him? Benedict Spinoza memorably attacked the ‘blind cupidity and insatiable avarice’ that leads us to imagine precisely the kind of god that will love us the most.
The same problem afflicts our thinking about animals. Anthropomorphism can certainly be a mistake: I might think a dolphin seems friendly because it appears to be smiling when in fact that’s the unalterable shape of its mouth. The cowering dog that the owner assumes looks ‘guilty’ about the empty dustbin is much more likely to be scared. But if we try to strip away every anthropomorphic accretion we end up with nothing at all we can say about animals, except merely to describe their actions. In any case, we can’t help it: we anthropomorphise cars and computers, accusing them of perversity and spite, much as we can’t help seeing faces in clouds and on Citroen 2CVs as well as on human heads. Our need to identify and interpret human agency is so great we tend to find it even in extremely implausible places.
‘Critical anthropomorphism’, as opposed to the crude, unreflective kind, requires that we avoid both jumping to conclusions based on trivial resemblances to human behaviour and complete denial of animals’ emotions and their kinship with us. It’s a complex problem, and it’s perhaps unrealistic to expact DisneyNature to attempt it with much intellectual rigour.
The terms ‘edgelands’ seems to be gaining a firmer foothold in the popular imagination. The book by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley, Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness made visible an idea that, as Robert Macfarlane pointed out in his review, was already gaining currency in recent discussions of the contemporary border between country and the city.
Iain Sinclair has been traversing the ignored borderlands of London in his fiction and his travelogue / psychogeographies for many years (most famously in London Orbital, 2002). Marion Shoard in 2002 defined it as the ‘apparently unplanned, certainly uncelebrated and largely incomprehensible territory where town and country meet’. Alan Berger described such spaces as ‘drossscape’ in studies of the same name in 2006.
Now comes the musician Karl Hyde (from the techno-group Underworld), who has created a documentary film The Outer Edges with director Kieran Evans that charts the edgelands of Essex via the river Roding to the Thames Estuary.
 ‘Edgelands’ in Remaking the Landscape, edited by Jennifer Jenkins (Profile Books, 2002). http://www.marionshoard.co.uk/Documents/Articles/Environment/Edgelands-Remaking-the-Landscape.pdf [accessed 3/4/13]
Come along to our Open Day event on the morning of Saturday March 23rd and get to find out about our exciting MA! The session for the MA in Literature, Landscape & Environment will take place at Corsham Court: for full details please see here: http://www.bathspa.ac.uk/
The exhibition will be a “multi-media exhibition, featuring the work of a number of notable contemporary artists” and “uses Wordsworth’s life and poetry – and the manuscripts of William and Dorothy displayed in the museum – as the inspiration for sculpture, fine art, poetry, calligraphy, electronic music, and conceptual installation.”
It is curated by Mike Collier, Brian Thompson, and our own Professor John Strachan. The opening night reception is sponsored by Bath Spa University and speaking at the opening will be Steve May (Dean of the School of Humanities and Cultural Industries).
To book a place visit the Wordsworth Trust Museum website.
Dr Iain Woodhouse, a lecturer in Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh and an expert in satellite mapping and forest ecology has reproduced three paintings by Constable, Suerat, and Van Gogh with some or all of the trees removed.
On his blog Forest Planet he says that the project ‘came about as an attempt to visually represent “loss”‘ and you can click between the altered version and the original. In an interview with BBC News he argued that “It is crucial that trees do not disappear from our landscapes”, adding that “Trees are a vital global resource, providing fuel, shelter, clean water and food for many species including people, and helping to maintain a healthy atmosphere by harvesting carbon dioxide.”
The experience of viewing the photo-shopped paintings is odd; an uncanny experience a little like reading a well-known sentence from a novel and realising it is not what you remembered. Clearly the jarring effect is important. But I also wondered about the curious tension between such an aesthetic experience of loss and the reality of deforestation and the crucial role forests play in the Earth’s ecology. Certainly, the expanse of sky revealed in the altered versions, and the impression of heat in the Suerat and Van Gogh, intensify the feeling of a changed and oppressive new climate.
We’re holding an information session on our fantastic MA in Literature, Landscape and Environment. Grab the chance to meet us, listen to us talk about our MA programme and take the opportunity to ask us questions.
Date: Monday 14 January
Where: in the Castle at our Newton Park campus (Room CE.101).
If you’re interested in attending, or even if you’re unable to attend but would like to find out more about the course or be kept informed about future events, click here to register.
Two of our staff on the Writing and the Environment Research Centre and lecturers on the MA in Literature, Landscape, and Environment appear in the latest issue of Ecozon@: the European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment. The special issue entitled ‘The Invention of Eco-Futures‘ edited by Ursula K. Heise, features an interview with Richard Kerridge and poems by Professor Terry Gifford (and also an article by the MA’s external examiner, John Parham).
Last year our students spent a day in the field, visiting the newly re-vamped Coleridge Cottage and walking the Quantocks. These photos courtesy of Ruth Bailey.
A windswept day …
However, it was clear that everyone was giving careful consideration to the ecology of the Quantocks.
Here is Professor Tim Middleton, who led the field trip that day:
And two of our students, Pat and Jane:
And, finally, a suitably evocative image of the day:
On Friday 28th September (tonight!) there is a talk by Prof Stuart Reynolds on Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. First published in 1962, the book has been described as ‘the founding text of modern environmentalism’ (Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism). Reynolds will ask “Why did it take so long (or did it?) to realise the environmental dangers of persistent chemical pollutants like DDT? And did Carson play fair in her attack on the culture of chemicals?”
The talk takes place at 7.30 at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, Queen’s Square, Bath. For more details check their website here: http://www.brlsi.org/events-proceedings/events/2012-09-28/fifty-years-silent-spring